Air Transport World

A compromise that works. (convertible aircraft seats)(includes article on acceptance of convertible seats by US airlines)

European airlines are installing convertible seats in growing numbers as a way to meet the service demands of their premium passengers while maintaining the flexibility to satisfy changing levels of business and leisure demand. In some instances, airlines have introduced the seats in tandem with the launch of new business-class products.

The convertible seat is designed to function as both a standard economy seat and a wider business-class seat. In typical configuration--on a Boeing 737 or Airbus A320, for example--a row of 6-across economy seats may be converted into a row of five or even four business-class seats (ATW, 3/94).

This convertibility makes possible the expansion or shrinkage of the business-class cabin according to passenger demand. During periods of peak business travel, the business cabin grows to accommodate the larger numbers of fullfare passengers. In off-peak periods, the business cabin is shrunk to carry a greater number of discount passengers. Simply put, the convertible seat solves the problem of time-of-day variability between business and leisure traffic that had made offering a fixed business-class product economically unattractive to many airlines.

But the convertible seat is heavier and more complicated than a standard seat, and requires some training to operate. And few would suggest that a convertible seat in business configuration is as comfortable as a fixed business-class seat. "It's a compromise, like a sofa bed," says Angela Gunther-Ferrari, a Swissair spokes-woman. Nevertheless, this compromise makes sense to more and more airlines in Europe, at least six of which have tested or installed the seats for domestic or European service.

British Airways, an industry leader in passenger-service standards, is leading the charge in using convertible seats. It introduced the Burns Aerospace convertible seat in the relaunch of its Club Europe business-traveler product last September, according to European Brand Manager Clare Todd. She says the convertible seat allows BA to meet business demand without sacrificing seats in nonpeak business periods.

BA has installed the seats on all Boeing 737s, 757s, 767s and Airbus A320s dedicated to mainline European routes. …

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